Talking about summer reading on NPR!

Getting an invitation to talk about children’s books and summer? No way I’d turn that down!

WCAI-FM in Woods Hole, MA
WCAI-FM in Woods Hole, MA

I had the chance to join host Mindy Todd and Falmouth librarian Jill Erickson at WCAI-FM (Cape and Islands NPR station) recently, and we talked about so. many. books!

guests 1

The topic was kids and summer reading.

Some highlights:

**the importance of letting kids make their own choices in the summer, to read exactly what they want to read

**the library is a parent and child’s best friend… a no-cost, community-oriented way to grow a reader

**taking on the Reading Without Walls Challenge is a great way to add some spice and excitement to your summer reading, either for a kid or an adult! The Reading Without Walls Challenge is brought to us by Gene Luen Yang, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

Reading without walls

You can listen to the show by clicking here (it’s about an hour).

Here is a list of books I mentioned on the program:

Summer Reading Recommendations for WCAI- The Point

PIcture Books

  • SURF’S UP by Kwame Alexander
  • FRED STAYS WITH ME by Nancy Coffelt… divorce/separation story
  • LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET by Matt de la Peña
  • WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES (Poems for All Seasons) by Julie Fogliano
  • Deborah Ruddell’s TODAY AT THE BLUEBIRD CAFÉ (bird poem, including the cardinal poem I read)
  • THIS DAY IN JUNE by Gayle Pitman (Gay Pride)
  • POEM RUNS by Douglas Florian (baseball poems, including the first base poem I read)

Middle Grade book (for ages 8 to about 12)

  • DRAMA by Raina Telgemeier… (graphic novel, theater kids)
  • Donna Gephardt’s LILY AND DUNKIN…transgender character, “outsiders”
  • Varian Johnson’s THE GREAT GREENE HEIST… main character is Jackson Greene (a smooth operator), a middle school caper reminiscent of Oceans 11. Sequel is TO CATCH A CHEAT. Varian visited Falmouth library and schools this past fall.
  • PAX by Sara Pennypacker… an animal story… a boy main character…. local author.
  • DISTANCE TO HOME by Jenn Barnes… baseball, girl athlete main character, will appeal to fans of Cape Cod Baseball League
  • Kekla Magoon’s CAMO GIRL…. a story about popularity, loyalty, friendship, middle school
  • Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s FISH IN A TREE… a girl battles with reading difficulties, adopting a trouble-making personality as a smoke screen, until a teacher makes a difference
  • ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia…Three African American sisters go to visit the mother who left them, in 1968 Oakland, California….the first book in a trilogy.

 

Young Adult– teen books

  • Ellen Wittlinger’s LOCAL GIRL SWEPT AWAY… a juicy Provincetown story… a story of four friends, one of whom gets swept away in stormy weather…. a mystery unravels.
  • K. A. Barson’s CHARLOTTE CUTS IT OUT… two girls who are juniors in a cosmetology arts program enter a competition, and Charlotte makes a bet with her mother that she’ll win…her mom wants her to give up cosmetology for college.
  • SIMON VS. THE HOMOSAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli… Simon struggles to come out to himself and his wonderfully quirky family, approaches a new romance and unravels the mystery behind some secret messages.

There are some other books that I was prepared to talk about on The Point, but we ran out of time!

They are:

A few more picture books:

  • SLICKETY QUICK: POEMS ABOUT SHARKS by Skila Brown
  • DRUM GIRL DREAMS by Margarita Engle…the main character is told that girls cannot be drummers…but she dreams and practices and becomes a star drummer in this colorful picture book set in Cuba.

More middle grade titles:

  • RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE by Kate DiCamillo…a friendship story set in the South… three girls,  baton twirling and pageants, and more
  • GOODBYE STRANGER by Rebecca Stead… perfect for parent and kid to read together; captures the complexity of middle school so well
  • Mike Jung’s UNIDENTIFIED SUBURBAN OBJECT…Chloe Cho, a Korean-American 7th grader, wants to get in touch with her family history…they are the only Asian family in town… funny, touching, great twist!
  • Laura Shovan’s THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY… 18 kids try to rescue their school from the wrecking ball… a novel in verse.
  • Kate Messner’s THE SEVENTH WISH… 12-year-old Charlie  catches a magical wishing fish and tries to use her wishes to solve some challenges, but her wishes go awry. Charlie is an Irish step dancer and wishes for a new dress for competition. On a more serious note, she longs for a solution when it’s discovered that her older sister has become addicted to heroin; Charlie grapples with the limits of magical thinking. This subplot is handled sensitively and may resonate with a lot of middle grade readers.

One more YA novel…

Sona Charaipotra’s SHINY PRETTY THINGS…Juicy ballet story, with three characters, it has been likened to  “Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars”…. it has a sequel, SHINY BROKEN PIECES. Diverse cast of characters and lots of drama for those who love ballet!

Mindy Todd, host of The Point
Mindy Todd, host of The Point

Thank you, Mindy Todd and WCAI-FM, for hosting this fun conversation about reading!

A Prison Writing Class using Children’s Books

Get people talking about the books they remember as children, and all sorts of things happen. The voice softens. There is laughter. The eyes look beyond, beyond the room to another place, another time.

That’s what happened in the first session of my creative writing class last month at Barnstable County Correctional Facility on Cape Cod. For five years now, I have been teaching a ten-week creative writing class in the women’s unit once a year; this time around, I decided to use children’s books as the writing prompts.

 wild things

I knew that more than half the women in the prison were mothers, and I figured that using children’s books would serve a dual purpose: provide a spark of inspiration for writing, and familiarize the women with children’s books that they may want to read to their children when they are released and reunited with family.

“When you hear the words children’s books, what do you think of?” That was the prompt on the first day of class, to allow me to get to know the women and hear a bit about their experiences.

Cat in Hat

They wrote and wrote, about Dr. Seuss, Goodnight Moon, Rainbow Fish, Where the Wild Things Are, nursery rhymes. Jess wrote three pages about a book she remembered from her eye doctor’s office, about a girl who needed a coat, and the sheep that were sheared to get the yarn that would be dyed red, and all the steps of the making the coat. Her face lit up as she read this reminiscence from her composition book. The word “pain” was tattooed along her knuckles. She couldn’t remember the title, but the feeling the book gave to her was still there after so many years, shining through in her smile.

Market Street

I read Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street to them to kick off our second class. They marveled at the “real people” who populated the illustrations (especially the guy with tattoos), and wrote about a time that they became aware of haves and have-nots, of want or lack, or having something that someone else longed for. The women roared with laughter as Laura read aloud about her mother snipping alligators off of polo shirts and sewing them on less-expensive shirts so her kids felt they were wearing the “right” brand. The book was passed around; they hungrily inspected the vivid illustrations by Christian Robinson. They discussed a line from de la Peña’s story that stood out as a favorite, especially poignant when read inside the walls of a prison: “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt…you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”

market street interior

For our third week, I dug around my local library and found A New Coat for Anna by Harriet Ziefert, published in the 80s. It was all there as Jess had described: the girl, the sheep, the red yarn. When I brought it in for session 3, Jess’s eyes lit up. As we passed the book around, she wrote down the title and author; she’s getting out soon and will not be in class when I return. They wrote about treasured articles of clothing: the extra-cool jeans everyone wanted in their teen years, the favorite boots, the halter top that Mom disapproved of. Everyone wrote, laughing softly, nodding, their pencils scratching in their composition notebooks.

New Coat for Anna

Some of the women read their words aloud each week, others shake their heads no, saying they will never read. Sometimes one participant will offer to read aloud the words of another. There are moments heavy with sadness, but more often, laughter.

In between the exchanges about books and writing there is talk about their children, getting out of prison, longing for coffee, wondering about the weather. As I bring a children’s book past the gates and checkpoints and metal doors, I feel like I’m carrying in a bright and vivid world, folded up as tightly as an origami box. We get to unfold it together, letting the colors and word play unfurl, warming the small airless room with cinderblock walls.

composition book

Seven weeks to go… more words, more color, more writing to come.

(Names have been changed to protect confidentiality)

Connecting Through Kids’ Books: A Prison Writing Project

Like a plane coming in for a landing, I am settling back in to work and writing after the excitement of the holidays and a January trip to Ireland. Thanks to local arts funding, I will be teaching a new version of my creative writing class in the women’s unit of the Barnstable County Correctional Facility here on Cape Cod, and I’m very excited!

Here’s the description:

Mary E. Cronin will lead a ten-week writing workshop, “Connecting Through Kids’ Books,” in the women’s unit of Barnstable County Correctional Facility, where 80% of the female inmates are mothers. In each 90-minute session, Mary will bring a children’s book, which will be read aloud and used as a creative writing prompt. As participants appreciate and write about children’s books, they will improve their own literacy, become newly aware of the power of reading aloud, and add to their parenting skills in anticipation of their release and reunion with their children.

**

It’s been well-documented that when parents are incarcerated, it places enormous stress on their children, impacting child development and the parent-child relationship. Connecting Through Kids’ Books: A Prison Writing Project aims to address those needs on several levels.

First, it will boost the literacy skills of the adult participants by sparking appreciation of high-quality children’s books, building vocabulary, and strengthening writing skills through creative writing.

Second, the program will bolster parenting skills by giving  participants a window into the joy and stimulation that children’s books can provide, especially if they themselves were not read to as children. Connecting through Kids’ Books also will give the women an awareness of titles they can read to their children once they are released from prison, and appreciation for the access that the public library can provide.

One of the books we'll be reading and writing about
One of the books we’ll be reading and writing about

I’m thrilled that two Local Cultural Councils from Cape Cod have supported this project, and I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. It starts next week!